Texas Gov. Rick Perry defended his Social Security views but shied away from some of his harsher rhetoric on the issue in a Monday USA Today op-ed.

The piece comes ahead of Monday evening's GOP debate in Florida, a state with a high number of elderly voters that could be crucial in the GOP nominating process.

"I am going to be honest with the American people. Our elected leaders must have the strength to speak frankly about entitlement reform if we are to right our nation's financial course and get the USA working again," Perry wrote. "We must have a frank, honest national conversation about fixing Social Security to protect benefits for those at or near retirement while keeping faith with younger generations, who are being asked to pay."

The piece does not refer to Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme," which Perry did during last week's presidential debate, and it affirms the worth of the program, a major pivot from Perry's description of it as "a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal" in his book, Fed Up.

While some Republicans including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have called for a major overhaul of the popular program, which politicians from both parties agree is on an unsustainable fiscal path, it is considered politically dangerous to criticize the program itself.